Best Kept Secret

Fair Oaks Horticulture Center is a must for gardeners

By Dan Vierria
March 2024

Want to know a secret? Sacramento’s best bargain is not Costco’s hotdog lunch or thrift store discards. It’s the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, tucked into the back of Fair Oaks Park on a 1-acre spit of land.

The center has been called “Disneyland for Gardeners,” but there are no long lines and triple-digit tickets. Admission to public events and parking is free. UC Master Gardeners staff the events and maintain the gardens. Next event is an Open Garden on Saturday, March 16, from 9 a.m. to noon.

At the Open Garden, visitors roam demonstration gardens for ideas on landscaping plants and groupings, and boost knowledge for growing edibles. Bring problem insects (in a sealed baggie or bottle, please!), damaged and diseased foliage, and other problems for identification and advice.

Only the front gardens are accessible daily. All the demonstration gardens, plus dozens of Master Gardeners, are at your service during scheduled events.

Public service doesn’t end at aiding the gardening community. The demonstration vegetable garden, occasionally supplemented by the onsite orchard, has donated nearly 12,000 pounds of produce to the River City Food Bank in Midtown the past seven years.

“This is extraordinary, given most of what we donate from the veggie garden is comprised of leafy greens, lettuces and, of course, tomatoes,” vegetable group co-project leader Linda Sanford says.

When I ask people if they have visited the Fair Oaks center, I am often reminded that many have never heard of this treasure.

“FOHC is a unique outdoor classroom, showcasing a diversity of edible crops and landscape plants,” says Judy McClure, program coordinator for Sacramento’s Master Gardener program.

She suggests multiple visits per year for seasonal inspiration. The seasonal transitions in each garden are a living showcase of how local gardens can be gorgeous year around.

“We provide an opportunity for informative conversations with UC Master Gardeners who are dedicated to helping our community grow productive landscapes and gardens,” McClure says. “We offer practical, science-based information, plus you can learn from our experiences, both successes and challenges.”

Wandering the center, visitors encounter gardens teeming with perennials, shrubs and trees, herbs, fruit and citrus trees, vegetables, berries, a vineyard, and an area for composting and vermiculture (worm composting). Kids love worm composting.

A pond and shady pergola adorn the property, which is bordered by the sprawling Fair Oaks Community Garden. Plants are labeled and tended by Master Gardeners. Informational handouts are available during events. Questions are encouraged. Problem-solving advice targets the Sacramento region.

“The public is our main focus,” says Curtis Purnell, co-project leader for the vegetable garden and maintenance team. “We are not here to sell the public things or enroll them in something or other. We are here to say, ‘Come in and we will try to help you, no strings attached.’ Gardening should be fun, and we try our best to help people enjoy their efforts.”

Established in 1998, the center is a Sacramento County UC Cooperative Extension project site and collaborative effort with Regional Water Authority and Fair Oaks Recreation & Park District. The park district provides the land, plus water and electricity.

Most Open Gardens are Saturday mornings, but a couple each year are Wednesday mornings. Next month’s Open Garden is Wednesday, April 17, followed by Saturday Open Gardens May 11 and June 15.

No event is scheduled in July because Master Gardeners are busy at the State Fair. But August’s Harvest Day is the biggest one-day gardening event in the region. It’s always the first Saturday of August—Aug. 3 this year. While events are free, the Master Gardener program accepts donations.

Plan ahead to attend one or more Fair Oaks Horticulture Center gardening events.

For a list of gardening events stretching into October, visit

Dan Vierria is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County. He can be reached at For answers to gardening questions, contact the UCCE Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338, email or visit Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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